Prologue

Dr Egenus' Institution of Psychological Research, established in 2008 and built to the most gargantuan proportions. Compared to the other buildings in the place, it was a castle, but that was back then. Now, in the year 2104, it still stands, upgraded several times over the years before it allowed itself to be dwarfed by the other giants in the city. Its reputation as a leader in research of the human brain has been more fortunate than its size and remains head and shoulders above all the desperate competitors.

Dr Egenus' Institution of Psychological Research. It was a place where the doctors were friendly and charming, the students were diligent, the fresh graduates were hardworking and the cleaners were the polar opposites of a smelly, fat janitor. It was a pleasant place if you factor out the oddly cryptic looks that most of the senior staff had about them, like they were trying desperately to hide something that they became paranoid. It became a common prank for someone to drop a whisper like "I know what you did last summer," and watch them hurry away to check on some secret trove, leaving the prankster to giggle and snicker.

Eventually, the pranks stopped. The cleaners were suddenly a lot less friendly and cheerful, the staff seemed to be always distracted and the students complained of hearing voices "in their heads". When the people, staff and student alike started to leave, the Institution closed itself to the public and the entrances were guarded. In the busy street it was situated in, people seemed to walk across the street just to avoid walking in front of the building. The windows were always polarised and entrance was granted only to staff and "visitors with important business".

After a few years of suffering decreasing popularity, the Institution dropped out of its line of research and kept to itself. The competitors eagerly took up the torch and blazed on, leaving Dr Egenus' behind where it continues to exist behind its veil of secrecy, still thriving on whatever new operation it had undertaken.

***

"Alright now, you may begin the test."

The annoyingly throaty voice of the teacher cut through the soft whispers that filled the classroom. Instantly, all conversation ceased and the air was filled with the sound of pens scribbling on paper. Ink Pens. Paper. The absolute antiquity of it made Ambrose want to roll his eyes, but the effort made them water instead, due to his headache. It was further worsened by his wondering of how the teacher had managed to procure them in such quantity for the entire class to use.

The teacher's reasoning behind the use of ink pens was because the electronic pens that were commonly used were able to be bugged so that you could, to a certain extent, cheat by checking the spelling of a word or scanning a sentence against a small database to check for validity. It worked especially well with Maths since it sometimes acted as a calculator.

Still, there were more effective ways to stop cheating by that method rather than forcing everyone to use ink pens. Not that the teacher, Miss Lynne, now in her forties and still unmarried, was known to be very bright. She could also be compared to a mule, stubborn in changing her "I-don't-care-what-you-think-just-do-what-I-say" attitude and her absurd love for the fashion of the 20th century. Black top and skirt with white polka dots. Honestly...

Ambrose forced himself to concentrate on the Chemistry paper. After staring at the question (Does magnesium chloride form a covalent or ionic bond?) for several seconds, he took a deep breath. As far as he was concerned, the question could have been written in Chinese. Either way, it drew a blank on his mind. The headache wasn't helping, either.

But there were other ways of cheating aside from a bugged electro-pen. After all, official examinations had their pens strictly checked, so other means had to be devised for cheating.

A glance up told him that he was on the fourth row from the left, in the very front seat. Cursing inwardly that he wouldn't be able to follow Miss Lynne's movements, he gave a convincing cough. A loud sniff from someone at the back came in response, signalling that the teacher was distracted. She was seated in a back seat, marking some papers.

Ambrose sniffed and tapped his pen on the table twice with deliberate slowness as if he was thinking when he was actually alerting his fellow classmates that he was about to ask a question. Then he proceeded to twirl his pen around once and tap it on the table once, hoping that someone was watching him. The question was simple. Number one?

A distraction came from somewhere to his left; a girl pretending to sneeze to cover up his inquiry and to throw a teacher off if she or he had somehow managed to break the simple code. This class was one that worked in unity. Every single person was part of one huge group that coordinated its efforts to see every member through the ten-year course of education. In the case of this class, they had been with each other from the very start. Four more years and they'd graduate together.

Help came from someone directly behind him. A sniff and a single tap of a pen on the table. She, or he, meant that the answer was the first one. With a small smile, Ambrose leant over his paper and started writing, watching the ink flow from his pen with mild fascination.

"Magnesium chloride forms an ionic bond."

The teenager shook his head in an attempt to clear his mind but instead of accomplishing that, a buzzing sound in his ears presented itself as another source of aggravation.

His eyes glanced at the clock before moving down to the second question. One hour, fifty-seven minutes and twelve seconds remaining.

"What is the chemical formula for magnesium chloride?"

Ambrose sighed. This was going to be a long test.

***

Lunch break. The cafeteria was packed by the time Ambrose had come out of the bathroom. He had chugged down two tablets (Acti-Pro: Fast and effective pain relief) for his headache but instead of helping, they seemed to have made it worse.


"What did you think about the test?"

Distracted by a buzzing sound in his ears, Ambrose took several seconds to locate the source of the question.

"Well?" He blinked a few times, shaking his head slightly to clear the pain before finally locating the girl who had posed the question earlier. She was tapping her foot impatiently, glaring at Ambrose as if to say, "If you don't answer right now, I'll turn and walk away!" It was obvious that this girl, Eileen, thought herself to be terribly important such that she needed to receive full attention at all times.

She was, in essence, a bloody nuisance.


"It was… eh… fine, I guess. Only I couldn't finish the paper since the answers were coming too slowly."
Ambrose lifted a hand to massage his forehead in a futile attempt to ease the pain.

"It's not like you to be the one on the receiving end. You're usually the smart kid with all the answers. What happened? Didn't study?" She laughed mockingly, teasing him.

"I just … forgot the stuff, that's all." He prevaricated.

"Huh! Forgot every single thing? I followed your questions. "What is the chemical name for table salt?" How could you forget that?"

"I'm not feeling well, okay? Leave me alone."

Eileen flashed a cheeky grin and ran off to join a queue. "Bye, 'Brossy!'"

Girls. What a pain they could be sometimes, especially Eileen…

A loud sigh escaped him as he continued to massage his forehead. For the past week or so, he'd been experiencing a pounding headache accompanied by a buzzing in his ears. The buzzing had grown from a faint sound to a level comparable to having a bee in his ear and it was steadily getting worse by the day. The unusual headache always seemed to be bothering him no matter how many relaxants he took. After standing at the door for a few moments, he decided to go outside. The smell of greasy food and strong carbonated drinks were starting to make his head spin. As it was, a headache was bad enough. He didn't need to deal with dizziness if it could be avoided.


Ambrose wandered around the school, breathing in the filtered air that was devoid of the pollutants outside. The hallways were mostly empty save for a few people going about their own business. Mostly teachers. Ambrose nodded stiffly at each one, not wanting to appear rude but at the same time not wanting to engage any in conversation. 

His headache was getting worse, like a spike slowly being driven through the base of his skull. Dazed with pain, he leaned against a wall for support, blinking through watering eyes.

"Argh…"

Need help?

Ambrose looked up and scanned the corridor. No one. He lifted a hand, wiping his eyes dry. The pain in his head eased a little.

You seem to be in a bit of a tight spot.

Again, his eyes darted around, looking for the source. There was no one, not even a shadow, and the entire area was flooded with light from the beams overhead. Uncertain, he ventured a feeble "Where are you?"

That doesn't matter now.

Pain exploded in Ambrose's head once again. He sank to his knees, gasping for breath. The buzzing in his ears had reached a pitch so high that it seemed like a perpetual scream. What's going on?

His vision darkened. Consciousness was slipping away from him. Panicking, he tried to stand up, but something held him down. His knees gave way, causing him to fall sideways onto the floor. He couldn't move at all.

In his last few moments of consciousness, Ambrose saw a boy walking down the hallway towards him, smiling. He squatted down, lifting up Ambrose's chin to stare into his eyes. Ambrose noticed that the boy\s eyes were mismatched, one brown and one blue. With that realisation, the boy's smiling face was suddenly nothing more than a blur of colours. Another spike of pain stabbed into his head and Ambrose blacked out.